House votes to ax Mexican trucks program

Published September, 10 2008

The U.S. House of Representatives voted against extending the Mexican carrier program. The House voted 395-18 to prevent U.S. Transportation Mary Peters from granting authority to a Mexican carrier to operate beyond the border zone unless expressly authorized by Congress.

President Bush is expected to veto the bill because of NAFTA obligations.

Rep. Pete DeFazio’s bill, HR 6630, passed as amended late Tuesday, Sept. 9. Information on how the Oregon Democrat’s bill was amended was not immediately available.

The breakdown on the vote was 215 Democrats and 180 Republicans voted in favor of the bill. It was opposed by 15 Republicans and three Democrats and 21 members did not vote.

The measure now goes to the Senate.

DOT officials were not immediately available for comment. On Aug. 4, John Hill, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, announced he would continue the program two more years.

“The world is watching how we choose to honor our international commitments,” Hill said. “At a time of surging exports and growing demand by U.S. truck drivers for new opportunities, it is simply irresponsible for Congress to deny American drivers the opportunity to compete in Mexico and American shippers a more efficient and timely way of getting their goods south.”

Whether or not to stop the program is also the subject of a lawsuit in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The program has been a lightening rod for congressional criticism since it began a year ago. An amendment was passed in December to cut off funding for the program, but bill backers and Peters disagreed on whether the wording would stop the program.

Bush has consistently backed the program, although he signed the omnibus funding bill in December that contained the amendment backers had expected to stop the program. Immediately before the vote on DeFazio’s bill, the White House issued a statement that enactment of the bill would endanger the United States from meeting its North American Free Trade Agreement obligations and pose risks to U.S. interests.

“If the DOT were forced to terminate the cross-border trucking demonstration project, opportunities and investment returns currently afforded U.S. motor carriers participating in the project would be compromised,” the executive office said. “However, intensified
enforcement activity by DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and state law enforcement agencies has effectively addressed any Mexican truck safety concerns.”

Program opponents argue that NAFTA’s requirement for opening the border is contingent on Mexican trucks meeting standards equivalent to U.S. safety standards and background checks and charge that the DOT does not require Mexico to do so.

The Teamsters, which, along with the the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Public Citizen and the Sierra Club, is fighting the program in the court case, was pleased with the vote.

“This bill makes it very clear that Congress wants the border closed,” Teamsters President James P. Hoffa said. “This time, the Bush administration can’t pretend it doesn’t understand what Congress means.”